“…the Commonwealth Fund in 2017 looked at health services around the world and found… the NHS to be the safest and the best in the world.
“We’ve put more money into the NHS – £12 billion more than in 2010 when the last government were in charge. We’ve also promised £6 billion…
“We’ve got more beds, more doctors, more flu vaccines available than ever before.”
That’s what the Minister for Housing and Planning, Dominic Raab, told the BBC’s Question Time audience last week.
There are several claims in there. FactCheck takes a look.
Claim 1: The Commonwealth Fund ranked the NHS the “safest and best in the world”
The Commonwealth Fund, a US healthcare think tank, ranked the NHS top in its 2017 study, “Mirror, Mirror”.
But the study compared healthcare services from only 11 countries (including New Zealand and Norway, as Mr Raab noted).
Admittedly, they are some of the most developed nations in the world (the US, Sweden, France, Germany, for example). But the study is by no means a comprehensive assessment of every healthcare system in the world. Major economies like Japan and Italy are not included, for instance.
FactCheck verdict: The Commonwealth Fund ranked the NHS the safest and best of the 11 healthcare systems it studied. That’s certainly an endorsement of NHS performance, but it’s not the same as coming top in the world.
Claim 2: The Conservatives have put “£12 billion more [into the NHS] than in 2010 – we’ve also promised £6 billion”
It’s true that health spending in 2017-18 will be more than £12 billion higher than it was in 2009-10 (it will be £124.7 billion this year compared to £112 billion when the Conservatives took office, accounting for inflation).
It’s also true that the Conservatives have promised £6.3 billion of extra NHS funding over this parliament, £1.6 billion of which will be allocated for 2018-19.
FactCheck verdict: Mr Raab is right that the healthcare budget is £12 billion higher this year than it was in 2009-10. He’s also right that the government has recently promised to inject an extra £6 billion in the NHS to be spread across the remainder of this parliament.
Claim 3: “We’ve got more beds… than ever before”
FactCheck asked Mr Raab to confirm the source of this claim. He said “over 1,100 more beds made available through reducing the number of delayed discharges.” He pointed us to this data from NHS England.
A “delayed transfer” happens when “a patient is ready to depart from such care and is still occupying a bed.”
We spoke to Mark Dayan at the Nuffield Trust healthcare think tank, who explained that delayed transfers are “a minor component of total bed occupancy, and have nothing to do with how many beds there are.”
NHS England does compile data on the number of beds available. But Mr Raab can’t have been referring to this, because it shows exactly the opposite trend to the one he describes.
The number of overnight beds available today (just under 128,000 in September 2017) is not even as high as it was when the Conservatives took office in 2010 – never mind in the history of the NHS.
As Mark Dayan points out, this trend is nothing new: “the NHS has been reducing bed numbers for decades – largely on purpose, as this was considered to be a sign of greater efficiency… We have gone from 300,000 [overnight] beds in the 1980s to 127,000 today.”
He adds, “On the other hand, day beds (of which there have always been far fewer) have risen slightly to 12,000, but it does not do anything like make up the difference. We have less than half as many beds as we used to.”
FactCheck verdict: Mr Raab is using the wrong metric to measure the number of beds available in the NHS. He’s right that so-called “bed blocking” has reduced, but figures for the number of overnight and day beds available show that they have declined. That’s a long way from Mr Raab’s suggestion that “we’ve got more beds… than ever before.”
Claim 4: “We’ve got… more doctors… than ever before”
Mr Raab pointed us to this data from NHS England, which as he told FactCheck, shows that “In May 2010 there were 94,742 Full time equivalent (FTE) Doctors and in September 2017 there were 109,002 FTE Doctors.”
So the number of doctors has risen since the Conservatives have been in office. We don’t have comparable figures for before then. But this report from the OECD shows that the number of doctors in the NHS rose by 50 per cent between 2000 and 2016.
This would seem to support Mr Raab’s claim that the number of doctors is at a record high.
FactCheck verdict: From the available evidence, it seems Mr Raab is right that there are more doctors in the NHS than ever before.
Claim 5: “We’ve got… more flu vaccines available than ever before”
This claim is also correct: by expanding the number of eligible people (to include 8 and 9 year olds, for example), over 21 million people will now be able to get a winter flu vaccine in England.
FactCheck verdict: It’s true that there are more flu vaccines available than ever before.